Copyright 2002 Jane Lotter. Do not use without written permission.

JANE EXPLAINS: Taking the ferry


My husband Bob is reading me the morning paper. He's doing this not because I'm illiterate, but because I enjoy the sound of his voice. Bob speaks in elegant tones reminiscent of the English actor Ralph Fiennes - which is somewhat surprising because Bob is neither British nor trained in the dramatic arts.

This particular morning, Bob is reading aloud from an article about the historic ex-Seattle-to-Bremerton ferryboat, the Kalakala. Built in 1935, the Kalakala was the world's first streamlined vessel. For years she was a popular sight on Puget Sound. Then in 1967, she was retired and eventually converted to a seafood processing plant up in Alaska. In 1998 - largely through the amazing efforts of unsinkable Seattle sculptor Peter Bevis (do I hear TV movie?) - she was rescued from Alaska and hauled back to Seattle. The hope now is to transform her into a floating museum with services that would include a restaurant and conference center.

But the Kalakala is having a difficult time of it. She needs extensive repairs and she's scheduled to be evicted on Dec. 31 from her berth on Lake Union. The Port of Seattle has said it cannot afford to help move the Kalakala.

"By Jove," Bob says, cutting to the chase, "the bottom line seems to be Seattle may lose the Kalakala again. It says here 'Art Skolnik, executive director of the Kalakala Foundation, said he was contacted by officials in three Washington cities interested in taking the ferry.'" "You know," I say, raising an eyebrow, "when those officials talk about 'taking the ferry,' somehow I don't think they mean they want to go for a ride."

Bob nods in agreement. "It appears both Port Angeles and the City of Tacoma have expressed an interest in taking the craft off Seattle's hands," he says. "Wouldn't that be a shame? Perhaps that's what actually happened to so many Seattle landmarks - the Twin Teepees, large chunks of Fremont and Belltown. Maybe they didn't get torn down. Maybe somebody shipped them to Port Angeles."

"Is that all it says about potential buyers?" I ask with some surprise. "Just Port Angeles, Tacoma, and one other unnamed city?"

"Well, there's this: 'Skolnik said if all else fails, there is a standing offer from a private party on the West Coast to buy the ferry. He declined to give details.'" Bob puts down the paper. "I wonder who that private party is," he muses.

"Who indeed?" I echo, unable to conceal a sly smile.

"Darling, you haven't been making prank calls again, have you?" Bob says suspiciously. "You know what the judge said about that."

"I'm very serious about the Kalakala," I assure him. "I think it would be a mistake for Seattle to lose yet another piece of its past."

"So what are you telling me? That you'd like to save the Kalakala and move it to..."

"Maple Leaf Park," I reply. "For dry dock repairs. Later, we can float it in the reservoir."

"But the Maple Leaf Reservoir holds drinking water!" Bob protests.

"I've thought of that. When people come aboard they'll just have to be sure and wipe their feet very carefully."

"I see," Bob says. "And how do you propose to pay for all this?"

I enumerate several fundraising ideas. "Bake sale, car wash, bingo night. Naturally, we'll also hawk gift wrap, chocolate bars, and magazine subscriptions. Oh, and every Seattle child under the age of 12 can scrawl pleading little letters to the Port Commission, Mayor Nickels, and Laura Bush."

"You've learned a lot from those PTA meetings, haven't you?" he asks.

"If similar fundraisers can keep Seattle's public schools afloat, they can certainly buoy up the Kalakala," I reply.

I raise my coffee mug above my head - rather like the Statue of Liberty holding her torch - and recite from memory: "The Kalakala is the gleaming silver symbol of Puget Sound's tradition of technological innovation. Her whimsical streamlined curves make her the world's greatest floating icon of the Art Deco era."

"Darling, that's inspirational," Bob says admiringly.

"Yes, it is," I agree. "I cribbed it from the Kalakala Web site. Which, by the way, people can visit at"

"And while they're there...," Bob begins thoughtfully.

"They can support the Kalakala by buying adorable Kalakala merchandise," I enthuse.

"T-shirts, posters, Christmas tree ornaments..."

"Get a jump on the holidays!" Bob declares, warming to the idea.

"Exactly," I say. "Because, you know, it really would be sad if somebody took Seattle's favorite ferryboat. Took it away forever, I mean."